Around 21,000 people in the US are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year, while an estimated 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. Now, researchers from Houston Methodist Cancer Center have found that a protein linked to ovarian cancer that may also contribute to the neurodegenerative effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
Stepehen T.C. Wong, the lead author of the study said, “Our research addresses a fundamental question of Alzheimer's disease -- how, or if, amyloid beta accumulation that can be seen up to two decades prior to brain function decline is involved in progressive neurodegeneration...Examining factors that contribute to the progressive decline in people with Alzheimer's will help us develop diagnostic biomarkers and new therapeutics."
In their study, the researchers used computational methods to examine archived bioinformatics data of brain tissue from deceased Alzheimer’s patients as well as mouse models. In the end, they found that ovarian cancer protein OCIAD1 accelerates the progressive neurodegeneration found in Alzheimer’s by reducing mitochondria function. As mitochondria are the “powerhouse of cells”, damage to them eventually leads to cell death and thus damage to neurons, and overall brain function.
Xuping Li, Ph.D., also an author of the study said, “We applied a system biology strategy to see if we could find a different mechanism of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease. We identified OCIAD1 as a new neurodegeneration-relevant factor, predicted its function, and demonstrated it mediates the long-term impact of amyloid beta on cells and synaptic damages by impairing mitochondria function.”
Whereas most research into Alzheimer’s has previously focused on amyloid beta alone, or connections between amyloid beta and protein tau, these findings add to a growing body of research suggestive of another role for protein amyloid beta in neurodegeneration. Rather than seeing it as a direct cause of neurodegeneration, these findings suggest it may in fact be more of a bystander, and may have limited responsibility for neurodegeneration.
Next, the researchers intend to further examine the relationship between OCIAD1 and both amyloid beta and tau proteins. In particular, they are interested in determining whether OCIAD1 may be regarded as a biomarker or a target for new treatments.